“This is what I NEED them to do,” a client said during our call recently. I had to squash the groan that was trying to escape my mouth.
The words and the tone of voice this client used were enough to ensure that “they” were not at all likely to do what she wanted them to do. “They” were her peers. She was asserting authority that she didn’t have.
Here are steps you can take to have successful conversations that don’t turn into unnecessary conflict.
Look At the Words You Use
“I need,” “I want,” and “you should” are good ways to send a conversation downhill before you’ve really gotten started.
When you use those expressions, you come across as a dictator. The persons you’re talking at — not with — can feel belittled, bullied, run over, and more. They’ll possibly end up thinking you’re a jerk.
Instead of those expressions, say something like “it would be good if we … ” or “I suggest we … .”
Don’t take charge of a conversation unless you are the person in charge of that conversation. Still, avoid “I” and go for “we.”
What Is Your Tone of Voice Saying?
Your tone of voice carries great weight when talking with others. I once coached the CEO of a large engineering firm. Mark was a big man — his physical presence alone intimidated people. He spoke in a monotone with no vocal inflection at all. I couldn’t tell when he was telling a joke or when he was serious. Neither could most of his hundreds of employees.
I coached Mark to vary his cadence when talking. Your cadence helps listeners know whether you’re upbeat or about to fire everyone.
For example, when you ask a question, be sure your voice goes up at the end of the question. That helps the other person realize you are asking something and not just making a statement.
Your Body Gives You Away
A few years ago, I decided to spend the year really digging down into body language. I did my research and bought several books that I felt sure could help me become more adept at reading body language.
This was the first sentence in the first book I opened. “Body language is so rapid, so natural, that it’s almost impossible to control it.” After reading that, I seriously thought about returning those books.
Your body language instantly conveys whatever you are thinking.
For example, do not roll your eyes when someone is talking. I do this all the time. When we roll our eyes, it sends the following messages to the person I’m talking with.
- You are an idiot!
- I can’t believe you said that!
- You think what you just said is important/valuable/brilliant. That shows how really stupid you are!
Since I can’t glue my eyeballs to stay still, I concentrate on looking at the speaker or I’ll look down at my notes if I’m feeling my eyes are about to give me away.
Avoid sighing. It’s on a par with eye-rolling. Everyone can hear you sigh. And what their brains hear when you sigh is often “will he/she ever shut up?” or “we’ve all heard that before.” Or “I can’t believe I’m having to listen to this pap when I could be getting work done.”
Avoid playing with a pen or other object during a meeting. Others can hear you clicking your pen even on a Zoom call. Your mindless fiddling with your pen or some other object conveys that you’re bored. It can also mirror the messages sent via eye rolls or sighing.
If you need to keep your hands moving during a meeting, do that by taking notes. Notes are quiet.
Become aware of how your words, your tone of voice, and your body language send messages. This blog has touched on the 7-38-55 rule for communication. To learn more, see using the 7-38-55 rule to negotiate.
About the Author Pamela A. Scott
Pam is an executive coach to CEOs and business owners, focusing on communication, managing people, leadership, and emotional intelligence. Her tagline says it best: “Numbers may drive the business, but people drive the numbers.”®
Pam started her company more than 20 years ago. For much of that time, Pam has coached engineers and architects to be leaders in their companies.
She brings more than 25 years of communications expertise and leadership experience as
- A national award-winning newspaper editor
- A communications specialist writing for Congress
- A successful entrepreneur specializing in coaching clients to reach their full potential
Clients have ranged from solo practitioners to companies such as Turner Broadcasting System, Coca Cola, Federal Reserve Bank, and engineering firms such as Walter P. Moore. For 15 years, Pam was a member of Vistage, an international organization of CEOs.
Pam has a master’s in education and human development from George Washington University and a bachelor’s in communication from Bethany College. In Toastmasters, she has achieved Advanced Communicator Bronze and Advanced Leadership Bronze levels.
We would love to hear any questions you might have or stories you might share about how to avoid conflict.
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success